"Be a part of something that can only be explained by the hand of God" ~ David Platt
Not enough. Haven’t we all felt this? I don’t have enough knowledge to contribute. I don’t have enough resources to make a difference. I don’t have enough talent to accomplish anything meaningful. I don’t have enough money, time, power, connections. I am not enough. In our world of ladder climbing, social media highlight reels and high expectations to achieve and accomplish, I think it’s so easy to feel worthless, unusable and devalued. But what if instead of giving up, feeling sorry for ourselves or working even harder to try to measure up, we put what we do have, even if it seems minuscule, into the hands of Jesus? What could He potentially do with our not enough?
After God used Moses to release the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, He gives instructions for how to build the tabernacle in the wilderness so He could dwell with His people. The instructions are detailed and require many talents, resources and skills from a lot of people to carry them out. In the midst of all these instructions and lists of materials that need to be gathered, there is a short verse that could easily be passed over, but it gives us an example of how something seemingly small and insignificant can be used in a mighty way when placed in the hands of God. Exodus 38:8 says, “He made the basin of bronze and its stand of bronze, from the mirrors of the ministering women who ministered in the tent of meeting.” Moses was asking for all kinds of materials from the newly freed Israelites, things like gold and silver, fine twined linen, different colored yarns, acacia wood and other valuable materials that would be used to build the tables and lamp stands and the altars and the veils and the Ark of the Covenant. In the midst of all the fine materials and valuable metals carefully carried out from Egypt, a group of faithful women brought their bronze mirrors in an effort to help the priests at the sanctuary. I imagine they may have questioned themselves as they saw pure gold jewelry and fine yarns spun from goat hair being delivered to the site of the tabernacle, maybe they wondered if what they had to contribute would be good enough. Nevertheless, they took the thing that they once used to look at themselves and gave it to be used in service to the Lord. The bronze mirrors were melted down to create a basin that was filled with water at the entrance of the tent so the priests could clean themselves after making a sacrifice. When the women put what they had in the hands of God, He used it in a significant and meaningful way for His glory and the good of His people.
A few hundred years later Israel is in a drought during the dark days of King Ahab due to their idol-worshiping tendencies. The Lord told Elijah, a prophet, to go to a widow in the town of Zarephath, the heart of Baal worship, and ask her for a meal and a drink. After hearing this request, the widow tells Elijah that she only has a little bit of flour and a little bit of oil and that she was planning to use it to make one last meal for her and her son before they die (presumedly from starvation). Elijah asks her to take a step of faith and put her not enough into the hands of a mighty God. She did what Elijah asked of her and the Lord provided flour and oil for her family in jars that never became empty, a miracle that resulted from her obedience to give what she could. In the hands of God, her not enough became plenty.
Centuries later Jesus shows up and performs a miracle to feed a hungry crowd of people. His Earthly ministry is underway and He has a crowd following Him, hoping to see one of the miracles they have heard about. He asked his disciples, Phillip and Andrew, what they should do to feed all those people (possibly 15,000-20,000 men, women and children). The disciples only see an impossible situation, but Andrew, I imagine hesitantly, mentions a boy in the crowd with five barley loaves and two fishes, likely a lunch his mother packed for him. The boy willingly puts everything in his hands into the hands of Jesus and watches as He takes his little bit and multiplies it not just to feed the entire crowd until they were satisfied, but to have twelve baskets full of leftovers. Jesus doesn’t just provide for the crowd, He provides abundantly. He took not enough and made it more than enough.
These are just a few examples in Scripture, there are so many more and if you listen to believers you will hear testimony after testimony of God’s provision. If God can create something beautiful and holy from tools of vanity, abundant provisions from scraps and a meal for a crowd from a boy’s lunch, can we not trust Him with what we have to offer, even if it doesn’t seem like much? I have felt like the women in the wilderness, the widow from Zarephath and the boy in the crowd many times over the past four years as we’ve said “yes” to God’s invitation into this ministry. I have no background in non-profit work, missions, medical care or business. I often struggle with thoughts of not having enough talent to lead this organization, not having enough knowledge to grow our mission, not having enough skill to share the opportunity we are offering others to be a part of. I find myself asking, “Do I have what it takes? Am I enough?” The answer is no. I don’t have what it takes to be a part of the global vision we have for The Will King Foundation. I don’t have the training or resources or connections to accomplish anything world-changing or profoundly impactful. But what if, what if, I put the little I do have, the not enough time, not enough money, not enough resources, not enough knowledge, not enough followers, not enough skill set into the hands of a mighty, miracle-working, promising-keeping God? I am not enough and not matter how hard I work or how much I learn or what I accomplish, I never will be. Instead of trying or wishing or hoping to become enough on my own, what if I offer the little bit I have in my hands into the hands of the God who made wine from dirty water, parted seas, brought down fire from Heaven, crumbled city walls, opened barren wombs, healed blind and paralyzed men and raises dry bones to life? We may not have a lot of offer, we may feel inadequate and unable but if we can trust Him with our not enough, He can make it more than enough - not for our satisfaction, not for our power or fame or gratification, but for His glory. His is always the same, He has always been faithful and He has always been good. He is still the same, all powerful God that did all those miracles we read about in Scripture, hear about from other believers and maybe have even experienced ourselves. He’s not going to change. What miracle might be lying on the other side of our obedience with a little? What blessing might come from our tiny offering? How might He use us for His glory if we put a small, simple faith into His mighty hands?
“When God wants to do an impossible task, He takes an impossible man and crushes Him” - Alan Redpath
Since the beginning of time, God has been creating light from darkness. His first action in creation is “let there be light” (Genesis 1:3). Before anything existed, light had to be present and God declared the light “good.”
Imagine human life existing without light. It would be impossible. Light comes from the sun and the moon and the stars, but what about when clouds cover the sky and it’s completely dark? Man learned to make our own light by burning and crushing. In ancient times, light came from oil. The Israelites would use a small clay bowl with a pinched edge as a lamp to hold oil. One side of the wick would be inserted into the oil, then threaded through and supported by the pinched edge and lit at the other side. After God rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, God instructed them, through Moses, to build a tabernacle in the wilderness. The tabernacle would be the dwelling place of God and the high priest, Aaron, and his sons were the care takers of the tabernacle. They sacrificed offerings, made atonement for sin, gave thanks to God and served as a liaison between the people of Israel and the One True God. One of their jobs was to keep the tabernacle lamp burning at all times. The tabernacle was positioned in the center of the twelve tribes of Israel, so no matter where they were camped, the Israelites could look at the tabernacle, see the light and be reminded that God was with them. Light represented the presence of God. To keep the lamp burning day and night, Moses asks the Israelites to bring pure, beaten olive oil to the priests. The olive had to be beaten, pressed and crushed multiple times in order to produce the oil for the lamp. The first pressing was done by hand and produced the purest oil that was used in the temple menorah and for anointing. The second pressing produced oil for food and the third and final pressing produced oil for daily use of the lamps. The olive had to go through three rounds of pressing, but without the crushing, there would be no oil and without oil, there would be no light. The hardest thing the olive had to endure held the greatest holy potential. The olive held the light that reminded God’s people of His presence.
The Old Testament promises more than just light, powered by oil, as a representation of God but tells of the coming of the “light” of salvation and “light” of God. In John 8:12, Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Jesus was beaten and ultimately crushed on the cross. He came to give believers the presence of God in Himself and through the Holy Spirit. His sacrifice gives us the greatest gift - the light, or the presence, of God. He is the true light that brings the very presence of God into a dark world. Instead of dwelling inside the tabernacle or temple, God dwelled among us when Jesus came. His greatest hardship became our greatest hope. In Paul’s letter to the believers in Ephesus he says, “now you are light in the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:8). Through the power of the Spirit, we are given the gift of having the very presence of God, the light of God, dwell in us. We get to participate in faithfully allowing God to illuminate the truth of the Gospel through us. However, more often than not, the brightest light is produced in the darkest crushing. The pressing is never comfortable, it is, in fact, extremely painful. Just like the crushing of the olive isn’t its end, the pain in our lives is often the beginning to what is most scared and valuable in the Kingdom of God.
Four years ago we experienced the greatest crushing in our lives. I held Will, only 96 days old, in my arms as he took his last breath. I still cannot describe the devastation. I have never felt so much heartbreak, hopelessness, confusion and sadness. It was completely crushing. But God. Through the pressing, through the heartbreak, through the complete and total crushing, He made light. We will never stop being heartbroken that Will is not here on Earth with us and we will always wish we could have seen him grow up, but I am thankful for the way God took the brokenness and made it beautiful. I am thankful that He did not leave us in our sorrow and grief but created a purpose from it, a way to glorify Him and share the Good News of the Gospel with children and families from all over the world. He meant it for good. He made a way when it seemed impossible. He has always been faithful. He has always been good, even and especially in the crushing.
The heart of a warrior is an unwavering devotion to a righteous cause. This is our theme for 2022 and beyond as we devote ourselves to the Will King mission. But what does it really mean? How do we have an unwavering devotion and who can we look to for an example? There are two that have been particularly encouraging me as we move forward in God’s call to support children from developing countries receiving heart treatment in Jacksonville.
The first is Joshua, the Biblical figure who inspired this theme. Joshua was Moses’ assistant and we first see him in Exodus 18:8-16 as a military leader in the Israelite army. The Lord has just brought the Israelites out of 400 years of slavery in Egypt, opened up the Red Sea for them to pass unharmed and miraculously provided food and water in the wilderness. Joshua has been with them the entire time but is officially mentioned when Moses tells him to choose men to fight against Amalek. Joshua did as Moses asked and with a small step of faithful obedience the Israelites saw a miracle, defeated Amalek and were free to move forward toward the Promised Land with the Lord as their banner. We see Joshua again in Numbers 13 as one of the twelve spies Moses sends out to survey Canaan. The spies return and ten of them report that the land is all that God has promised, but they are fearful to enter because the people there are strong and the cities are fortified. Only Joshua and Caleb trust God and urge the Israelites that they will be able to take the land because God has promised it to them. Another step of faith that produces genuine courage. As Moses’ death approaches, God appoints Joshua as Israel’s new leader. For forty years, Joshua has faithfully watched Moses as he followed after God. He was there when Moses received the ten commandments. He witnessed his reaction to the apostasy of the golden calf. He worked alongside Moses as he led the building of the tabernacle adhering to every one of God’s detailed instructions. He observed Moses obey God’s command to make a copper serpent and raise it up as an antidote to the poisonous bites the discontented Israelites were being afflicted with in the wilderness. He listened as Moses negotiated with the tribes who wanted to settle east of the Jordan and with Zelophehad’s daughters when they asked for an inheritance. He was grieved when Israelites, sometimes even Moses' own family members, chose to rebel against Moses as God’s chosen leader and watched them suffer the consequences. He stood by as Moses faithfully delivered the law and continually urged God’s people to trust Him. By having a front row seat to Moses’ life, Joshua must have learned that obedience isn’t based on a certain future, it’s based on our certain God. Joshua’s life was a series of small steps of faithful obedience and then, as recounted in the book of Joshua, he is blessed with finally leading Israel into the land that God promised them through Abraham. Joshua’s faithfulness blessed him by allowing him to see many miracles in his lifetime. He saw God open up the Red Sea and the Jordan that defied every law of nature. He saw a piece of dead wood sprout almond blossoms overnight. He saw water come from a rock and food come down from Heaven. He felt the Earth shake as the walls of Jericho crumbled. He witnessed the sun and the moon stand still. Joshua was 80 years old when he stepped through the Jordan into Canaan and he shows us what it looks like to have long obedience in the same direction. With every small step of faith he took, he grew in wisdom, courage and strength and he was blessed by seeing God’s faithfulness come to fruition. Joshua’s obedience did not only benefit him personally, but it positioned Israel to receive their inheritance from the Lord. He not only obeyed the Lord individually, but he repeatedly encouraged others to do so as well. Joshua showed his unwavering devotion to the cause of the Lord by being obedient to His instructions and taking small step of faith to do what the Lord commanded over a long period of time.
Second, let’s consider a familiar passage from John 2:1-12 when Jesus turns water into wine. This is the first sign in Jesus’ ministry, but it was only witnessed by a few. I love this about Jesus, he cares for His people so personally. He didn’t perform miracles to draw big crowds or get attention, he performed miracles so that we would believe, for the benefit of a few, and He took the time to reveal Himself to people individually. Jesus and his disciples were invited to a wedding in Cana. Weddings in Jesus’ times were week long celebrations and the groom’s family would have been responsible for providing the wine to last the entire week. When they ran out of wine, Mary doesn’t want the family to be embarrassed and asks Jesus to perform a miracle. She turns to the servants and says, “Do whatever He tells you.” I imagine how the servants must have felt, they were probably nervous and scrambling to figure out what to do. Maybe they had brainstormed some potential solutions and came to the conclusion that none of their ideas would actually work. They were left to rely on, maybe begrudgingly, the command of Mary with no knowledge of who Jesus was and no promised outcome if they did chose to obey. The servants began taking small steps of obedience, all of which would have seemed nonsensical to them. They filled the jars of purification that would have been half full of dirty water used to wash the guests hands upon arrival. Then they had to go get a ladle and draw water out of the stone jars. Next, the most scary step of all, they had to take it to the host so he could drink it. The servants had to take many small steps of faith to see a big miracle. The wedding guests had no idea what had occurred, but the servants and disciples witnessed a miracle because they chose to obey Jesus. John 2:11 says, “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in Him.” Small steps of faithful obedience lead to the blessing of believing in Christ. Jesus blesses obedience abundantly. He didn’t just make wine, He made good wine, even better than the wine served at the beginning of the party. He offered extravagant grace for those who showed unwavering devotion to Him.
Jesus’ gift of eternal life is given through the grace of God. There is nothing we can do to earn it and nothing we can give in return for it. Small steps of faithful obedience are a response to God’s grace, not a way to earn it. Once we come in contact with the fullness of God’s irresistible grace, faithful obedience is not a way to get blessings from God but our response to the blessing of salvation given to us. In Matthew 25:29, Jesus is talking about the end times and how we are to wait for His return. He says, “For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have abundance.” We are called to use our time, money, resources and God given ability wisely and productively in everything we do whether in our homes, work, ministry, hobbies or relationships. This is unwavering devotion - small steps of faithful obedience to what God has asked us to do in response to his grace and love. He has asked us to support children from developing countries who are receiving heart treatment in our city and like Joshua and the servants at the wedding in Cana, our resolve is to continue taking those step of faith, no matter how unclear they may seem, how unknown they might feel or how insignificant they may appear. We invite you to take those steps with us and I truly believe that together, we will see miracles.
My husband and I named our firstborn son Joshua, which means “God is Salvation,” because we love and admire the example and character Joshua displays in the Bible. I spent the last few month of 2021 studying the book of Joshua and the one truth that resonated with me above all else was this - the heart of a warrior is an unwavering devotion to a righteous cause. The book of Joshua recounts the Lord bringing the people of Israel into Promised Land after 40 years of wandering in the wilderness. The Israelite army, led by Joshua, takes city after city, eventually ruling all of the land in Canaan and dividing the territory among its twelve tribes. Before every battle, the Lord tells Joshua that He has already given the city into the hands of the Israelites, but the battle still must be fought. Joshua knew the outcome, the Lord promised a victory, but Joshua still had to lead his people to fight the battle in faith. Joshua had a worthy cause. He had been chosen by God to finally lead the Israelites into the Promised Land and see the fulfillment of a promise God made to Abraham hundreds of years before. God promised to conquer the enemy and He called Joshua to be obedient in faith, devoted to the cause of the Lord.
Reading about Joshua, seeing his tremendous and unwavering faith in the Lord and thinking about how he might have struggled to not worry or question how God would fulfill His promise made me think about our mission and how we can apply the heart of Joshua to the work God has called us to. A lot of times children born with a heart defect are called "heart warriors." If you've ever met or been around a child with CHD, you know this is a fitting description. These children, and their families, are committed to seeing their care through to healing, no matter the cost. Children born with CHD typically go through a lot - treatments, surgeries, hospital visits, traveling to receive specialized care, medications, monitoring, expenses, shifted lifestyles, fear, unknowns, appointments with specialists, etc. - and there is no way their family could continue with the endurance needed if they weren't devoted to their child being healed. Just as Joshua would frequently gather his people and give them a battle plan, I want to gather you, our people, and share our plan to continue moving forward in our mission in 2022. We want to come alongside those children and their families who are warriors themselves and support them with unwavering devotion. Our vision for 2022 is to cultivate the heart of a warrior so we can continue to fight for and support children from all over the world who need life-saving heart treatment. I want to paint a clear picture of what you will be a part of when you commit to supporting, sponsoring and giving to The Will King Foundation and how our unwavering devotion to this cause will continue to change lives, families and communities all over the world.
What is our cause? Our mission is to supporting children from developing countries receiving heart treatment in Jacksonville. I think of our mission as the practical and tactical side of what we do. There are children all over the world who are born with a heart defect, but because of where the live they do not have access to the specialized care they need to be treated. We believe every child deserves a chance at life and helping them gain access to the care they need is a huge part of that. However there’s something deeper behind our mission, the true healing that comes when the eternity of the child shifts. Just as there are children born all over the world who need heart treatment, there are also children all over the world who have never heard the Good News of the Gospel. There are areas of the world that church planters called “unreached,” meaning areas where the news of the Gospel has not yet been shared with the people living there. Oftentimes, areas where children don’t have access to heart treatment tend to overlap with areas that have the highest concentration of unreached people groups. When we bring one of those children to our city for heart treatment we also get to share the Good News of the Gospel - that even though we have all sinned and deserve to be separated from God, He sent His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross, taking the full and final punishment for our sin and giving us the opportunity to be in a right relationship with God for all of eternity. This is our cause - to support children from developing countries receiving heart treatment in Jacksonville while taking the opportunity to show them the love of Jesus. Imagine the ways God will use these children to reach those unreached peoples!
What has the Lord promised us? Joshua had a very clear promise from the Lord. God had promised the land of Canaan to the Israelites and for Joshua’s whole life he had been faithfully taking steps to see that promise fulfilled. God makes many promises to believers, but here are some I want us to specifically claim as we commit to our cause:
1. God promises to use us to help others and proclaim the Gospel (Isaiah 61:1).
2. God promises to use our prayers to make the sick well (James 5:14).
3. God promises to be with us as we go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20).
What are God’s instructions to us? Jesus' last words to his disciples are recorded in Matthew 28: 18-20. He says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Jesus instructs us to share the Gospel and make disciples. He calls us to love our neighbor (Mark 12:31). He calls us to care for the sick and bind up the brokenhearted (Isaiah 61:1).
How can we respond in faith? We believe that God is good no matter what and we are fully convinced that God is able to do what He has promised. We are committed to responding by loving, supporting and sharing the Gospel with children and families who come to our city for heart treatment. We will continue to provide King Kits that include items the family may want or need during the stay. Each King Kit will always include a Jesus Storybook Bible that the child can take home with them. We will continue to invite each family to church and spend time with them in our home, taking them meals and showing them the love of Christ by caring for their physical needs during their time here. Above all, we will continue to pray, committing each child to the Lord and trusting Him for their care.
Joshua didn’t defeat the Canaanites and conquer the land alone. He had an entire army of Israelite soldiers fighting and serving with him. At the end of his life, Joshua reminds Israel that their call is to serve and honor God, which cannot be done casually or without divine assistance. He challenges them. “choose this day whom you will serve,” (Joshua 24:15) and warns that if they chose to serve the one true God that it will require their complete devotion, obedience and trust. The battle is already won, but we still have to fight in faith that God will fulfill every promise He makes. I want to invite you to continue fighting for this cause with us. Each year there are thousands of children born all over the world who need heart treatment. There is no way we can reach them all, but we can reach one and then another and then another. Each child that comes to our city goes home with a heart that works physically thanks to the exceptional care of the amazing doctors and nurses at WCH. Each child that comes to our city is loved, cared for and prayed for. Each child that comes to our city is given a chance at life and God is given a chance to use each of those lives for His glory. This year we are looking ahead with the heart of a warrior, unwavering in our devotion to the cause that our God has given us.
Returning to normal life after losing Will was challenging in ways I didn’t expect. I knew it would be difficult to move forward as a family, raising our children without their brother and missing his presence in our home daily. I knew it would be especially challenging to balance celebrating Caroline’s milestones while at the same time grieving the fact that Will would not be reaching them with her. What I didn’t expect was the myriad of emotions I would experience while learning to interact with the rest of the world again, especially my friends and the people I saw every day. I found that death, especially death of a child, shifts your entire worldview in a second. At first, it was awkward seeing people for the first time after Will died. In some twisted way in my mind, I felt guilty for making someone feel awkward about confronting me or even being in the same room as me. No one knew what to say or even if they should say something. I could tell when someone wanted to give me a hug or say something about Will but hesitated, probably not knowing if it would upset me or if it was the right time or place. I felt bad when other people avoided me or felt weird around me. I took on all this responsibility for everyone else’s feelings on top of my own complicated emotions that I still wasn’t sure how to express or navigate. It was irrational, but very real to me. I was suddenly a walking reminder of every parents’ worst fear and I felt so awful for making anyone even confront the idea of losing their child. Even though it was completely out of my control I was now associated with that horrific thought and I didn't know how to handle that other than feel guilty.
As those first time encounters got fewer and fewer and conversations started returning to normal, I found myself disengaged and sometimes even angry at what people were talking about. Everything felt so incredibly trivial to me. I felt like everyone’s problems and complaints and issues were so small and insignificant in comparison to what I had experienced. Sometimes I’d be listening to someone describe a hard decision they were trying to make or an argument they had with their spouse and my inner voice wanted to explode out of me and scream, “my baby just died in my arms, this doesn’t matter!” Of course I suppressed that inner voice, but sometimes I had to remove myself from particular conversations or distance myself from certain relationships for a time period until I no longer felt so angry about all the “small” problems of the world. I simply couldn’t take in anything else, the “hard things” space in my heart was overflowing with my own hard thing. I’ve heard people say that everyone is carrying something and if everyone put their burdens in a pile you would most likely want your own burden back. I didn’t want mine back. I thought that I would take literally any other burden in the pile than mine. It was too heavy. I’ve also heard people say that God never gives you more than you can handle. That definitely isn’t true.
It’s been almost two years since Will passed away. I am no longer worried about making people feel awkward and I can now listen to other people's problems without worry of an impending volcanic eruption. I hope I have been open enough about Will and his story that people aren’t afraid to ask me about him if they want to. I also hope that people know that I never expect them to ask about Will. I literally have no expectations about how other people will or should relate to me. I love talking about him and am willing to do so with anyone who asks, but I also don’t feel hurt or offended if someone doesn’t ask me about him. I am also able to listen to other’s burdens again without feeling like they are wildly insignificant compared to mine. Everyone is dealing with something hard and I am confident that I am in no position to judge whose problem is the worst nor do I want to be in that position. I’ve said before and I still firmly believe that it will never benefit anyone to compare or rank grief. If something is hard for someone I am now able to listen empathetically without the inner voice screaming how silly or small their problem is. If my friend is going through something, even if it might seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things, it’s a big deal to them and therefore a big deal to me. One of my best friends got me a book called, “The Rabbit Listened” after Will passed away (there's a video of it below). It’s a children’s book about a child who experiences a hardship and all these animals come up one by one and are sure they have the answers to “fix it.” Then the rabbit comes and is just there to listen. Immediately after losing Will I didn’t have the ability or capacity to listen to anyone else’s problems. I needed someone to listen and acknowledge my grief and heartache. That changes with time. Now I don’t need to be listened to and sometimes, depending on the person or situation, I don’t want to be listened to. I am again able and content to be the listener. At least I hope so. I think losing Will has made me much more empathetic to others. I used to be a little more rough around the edges, leaning on the side of “toughen up” and “just get over it.” Now I understand that things are hard for people. Even if it seems small to me, it might be really big for someone else and even if I can’t fully understand it, I can appreciate the emotion someone else is feeling because life is just hard sometimes. Even though I haven’t experienced many of the hard things us humans endure - divorce, loss of a parent or sibling, loss of a job, an eating disorder, a terminal diagnosis, abuse or so many other things - I can and do understand grief. I understand loss and trauma and heartbreak. I can walk into a room without feeling scared or guilty or unsure. I can listen to the problems going on in the world and in the lives of the people around me and not feel like everything is insignificant and silly. I know things are hard. I can recognize grief in someone else, even if we are not grieving the same thing. I can truly and deeply feel empathetic to even the most trivial situation because if it’s something my friend is struggling with then it’s worth my time, energy and compassion, even if I don’t fully understand it.
If you know someone who is going through something serious or a has experienced a significant loss, my best advice is to just hold on. Give them time and listen. Don't try to fix it. They will return to being the friend you want and need them to be, actually they will probably return a better friend than they were before. But when you are experiencing trauma you cannot take in anymore trauma, even if it’s small and even if it’s someone else’s, so don't expect them to. If you know someone in the middle of a hurricane, be the rabbit. Listen. You will have the space to talk about your struggles again one day but not now. If you are the one in the hurricane, it’s okay to feel all the feelings that come with it, nothing is bad or wrong. It’s okay to feel like nothing else matters. It’s okay to feel like nothing else is as big as your burden because nothing else is. It’s okay to feel angry and indifferent and annoyed. Give yourself time and space. Keep your distance from the people you need to keep your distance from. Don't feel guilty for making other people feel things solely based on your existence. There's a line in "The Rabbit Listened" that says, "And when the time was right, the rabbit listened to Taylor's plan to build again." There will come a time when you are ready to build again. Even though life will never be the same, it will be fun and exciting and full again. I have learned that I won't always be happy but I will always have joy. God makes beautiful things out of tragedy. God can turn anything that the enemy intends for evil into something good. And if you don't believe that, if you can't believe that, that's okay too. Just hold on.
If you are experiencing trauma, heartbreak or tragedy, just hold on. You will be able to have a normal conversation again one day, you will have great relationships with friends, old and new, and it won’t always be so weird.
If your friend is experiencing trauma, heartbreak or tragedy, just hold on. You will get your friend back one day, they will return and be able to talk and listen and laugh again. It might take a while, it might not, but they will come back.
Grief is weird. It changes a lot. It's different every single day and it's sometimes even different multiple times in the same day. It's triggered by all the things your expect and even some (many) things you don't expect. It's not bad and not something to feel guilty about. It might get worse but it will get better. Just hold on.
“Working hard for something we don't care about is called stress. Working hard for something we love is called passion.”
― Simon Sinek
What would you do if you knew you wouldn't fail? It’s been almost two years since we started The Will King Foundation. It feels like forever and yesterday all at the same time. I didn't have the tools, experience or education to start a non-profit, but my "why" was big enough to keep us going. I took advice from Emily P. Freeman (and apparently Princess Ana) and just did the next right thing. I have run into some roadblocks along the way, but the thing about blocks is that they can be knocked down. Sometimes the blocks were wobbly and easy to push over. Other times they were strong and seemed impossible to move. I’m sharing a few of the lessons I’ve learned over these past two years in hopes of encouraging someone else out there who has a dream in their heart and needs to find the courage to start or a gentle push (or shove) to keep going.
PS - don't miss the free download at the end of the post!
1. You will feel insecure and incompetent. I have had to learn everything. Everything. How to create a website, how to craft a mission statement, the difference between a mission and vision, how to use social media to share our mission, how to fundraise, how to have meaningful relationships with donors, how to set up an email list, how to find sponsors for an event, how to find the right people to plan said event, how to communicate our why, the list literally goes on. Most of the time I have felt so stupid, really really frustrated and like the eyes of the world was watching me to see if I had the ability to learn the next right thing or if I would fail. I have walked into many meetings where I was the one with the least experience, least knowledge and least understanding of what was going on. I have asked a lot of questions. Many of those questions have made me feel incompetent and asking them makes me so insecure. For all my fellow Enneagram lovers, come down this rabbit trail with me for just a minute. I am a three on the Enneagram, also know as the performer or achiever. Threes are driven by feeling successful and admired. They are highly productive, highly motivated people with lots of energy but their pit fall is vanity. Us threes are the people pleasers of all people pleasers and we care a whole lot about what other people think of us. Feeling incompetent or unsuccessful is a three’s worst nightmare. See where I’m going with this? If you are starting something new and unknown you have to be okay with being dumb. That doesn’t mean you have to stay dumb, in fact you defiantly shouldn’t, but you have to get comfortable with the feeling of incompetence because if you are continuing to grow and learn, I’m guessing it will be with you for a long long time. I have resolved that this feeling of insecurity is sticking around and I have shifted my mindset to view it as assurance that I am growing and getting better.
2. You will succeed if you are willing to be the one who refuses to stop. How many times have you started a diet or a workout plan, a devotional book or anything that requires consistency and just stop when it gets a little bit hard. How easily do you give up when there’s the tiniest bit of tension, a little setback or even a massive, catastrophic mistake? If you care about something enough, you have to refuse to give up, regardless of the setbacks, disappointments and difficulties. I would bet money that if you ask any successful person how they got to where they are, they would tell you that they simply refused to give up. Make persistence your number one quality.
3. You need to surround yourself with people who are smarter, better and more experienced than you. The moment you find that you are the most experienced or the most knowledgable in the room, find a new room! When I don’t know how to do something, which is most of the time, I find someone who does. One of my very best friends is an expert in non-profits and she has a passion for helping new non-profits establish their mission, define their goals and make a plan to reach them. I ask her literally everything. There has not been one big decision, idea or major change that hasn’t gone by her first. When it was time to get a team together to plan our first fundraising event I thought about which of my friends had the skills that I didn’t. I found someone who knew everything about non-profit marketing and fundraising. Someone with experience chairing fundraising events similar to the one we were hosting. Someone who was creative with an eye for design and event planning. If you are starting something new never ever be the smartest one in the room. Surround yourself with people who know way more than you and humbly seek their guidance and advice.
4. No one cares as much as you do. NO ONE. I am blessed. I have an amazing community who truly, deeply cares about The Will King Foundation. I have friends who are passionate and have devoted hours upon hours and continue to support me and us and the foundation with everything in them. They don’t care about it as much as I do. And guess what I learned the hard way - I cannot expect them to. The Will King Foundation will never be as personal to anyone as it is to me. Not to my family, not to my closest friends. I am Will’s mom, this is the path my little boy set us on, I chose to walk down it, not stopping. I care the most and I always will. And that is OKAY! If you are beginning anything for the first time and it’s something you are deeply passionate about then don’t expect anyone to bring as much energy and enthusiasm to it as you do. No matter how deeply anyone is invested they are not you. Get those people around you but don’t ever put pressure on them to give themselves to your new venture like you have. Don’t put expectations on others to care as much as you do and everyone will own your new mission in their own way, at their own level, with their own heart.
5. It’s okay to go slow. UGH! I hate this one because enneagram three (see #1). Threes are goal getters. When I have a goal I want to see it reached, crushed actually. I can see the whole vision for the Will King Foundation, one that involves international reach and thousands of children being impacted and lives being changed all over the world. I can see it so clearly, every detail of how it will happen and what it will be like but it doesn’t have to happen today. Or even tomorrow. I want to make big goals and reach them fast and if you do that then that’s great (and I’m honestly jealous) but it’s okay to build slowly, maybe even better. It took over a year for us to have a mission statement that I feel happy about. We are planning a big goal right now that we have put a three year timeline on. THREE YEARS, ugh, might as well tell me it’s never going to happen. I’m learning that it’s okay to take your time. It takes time to think through things, come up with a solid, effective plan and get others on board with your vision. Relentless forward progress. I would rather take a little more time getting people invested in our mission than accomplishing everything at lightening speed. What really matters is the people who are connected and impacted through what you are doing. You can be a goal smashing machine but doing it without making any connections with other humans, doing it without thoughtfulness and care about how it will impact others will probably leave you feeling like your smashed goals were pretty meaningless. Yes, we have big goals for The Will King Foundation. We have audacious ideas about how to reach children from all over the world and how to impact our local community but reaching those goals quickly just for the sake of reaching them quickly is not at all what I want to be about. Slowing down, thinking it through and making meaningful connections along the way is a goal that won’t be crushed overnight and I’m okay with that.
I created something for YOU. It’s for anyone who wants to start something new. It’s for anyone who has started something new but you feel stuck. Maybe you’ve run into one or more of the roadblocks I have experienced. Maybe you need some tools and encouragement to help you move forward and figure out the next right thing. I hope this Simply Start Workbook will help you. You can download it for free below!
*This link if for NEW subscribers only, if you are already subscribed to The Will King Foundation then your free workbook should already be in your inbox!
When I am apart from my children I often find myself wondering, “What are they doing at this very moment? Are they happy? Are they having fun? Do they feel safe? Do they miss me?” I think it’s typical for parents to worry or at least wonder about what their children are doing when they are apart from them. It’s irrational, but I often wonder what Will is doing. I know he is safe and loved and secure in heaven with Christ, but what is he DOING? As far as I know, the Bible doesn’t give too many specific details about heaven and personally I think it’s because if God revealed too much about heaven then none of use could be happy here on Earth. If we really knew what was coming, if we really had the urgency and expectancy we should, then how could we be satisfied or happy with this world? I have spent some time trying to find everything the Bible says about heaven, just trying to get an idea of what Will might be doing. I just want to know. I want to be able to imagine him doing something that actually happens in heaven. I am no Bible scholar (far, far from it) and definitely not a theologian of any kind, but here is what I have learned about heaven and what Will might be doing there.
1. He is with Jesus. When Jesus was dying on the cross He was crucified between two criminals. In Luke 23 one of the criminals asks Jesus if He will remember him when he gets to heaven. Jesus replies, ““Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Paul also talks of death ushering Christians into the presence of Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:6-9 and Philippians 1:23-24). There are many cases where the word “sleep” is used to describe death in the Bible, which I believe refers to the way the body looks and acts, but no to the state of the body. I know that Christians disagree about when you go to heaven, whether it’s immediately after you die or during the second coming with all the saints. Ultimately, I think it’s a second hand issue but in either scenario, whether we go into a sleep until Christ returns or if we go straight to be with him the moment we stop breathing here on Earth, we are with Jesus no matter what. I believe that just like that criminal on the cross next to Christ, we will be with Jesus immediately after we die. For even more clarity, here’s what John Piper says about this subject:
So, my conclusion is that Christians have a double encouragement for those who are dying or have died. For the believer who trusts in Jesus Christ, Christ’s blood and righteousness have removed the condemnation for every believer and secured for us both final resurrection of the body in a new heaven and a new earth, and now, after death, an intimate, sweet experience of being in Christ’s presence between death and resurrection. It is a blessed hope in both ways. We are safe. We are safe in him now, we will be safe in his presence at the moment of death, and we will be supremely happy in a new and healthy body forever and ever in the new heavens and the new earth.
2. He is living in a perfect body. Philippians 3:21 says that in heaven Jesus “will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body.” When Will was here on Earth his body was sick and broken. He had a weak heart. His kidneys did not work. His liver, spleen and other organs didn’t function properly as they should. His lungs needed help to breath. Not in heaven. In heaven his body is healed. He is no longer sick. There is nowhere in the Bible that I know of that gives us a description of what we will look like in heaven, but I think the transfiguration gives us a hint. In Luke 9:28-36 Jesus takes Peter, James and John to the top of a mountain to pray. Luke 9:29 says, “And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white.” Moses and Elijah were also there, also transformed into something glorious. I think this means two things - one, our bodies will be perfect and two, we will be recognizable. Although different, Peter, James and John still recognized Moses and Elijah. I know some people believe that we will not recognize people from Earth once we are in heaven but based on this text, I believe we will. I believe that when I get to heaven I will immediately know my little boy even though he might not look like he did on Earth, I will see him in his perfect, eternal, glorious body.
3. He is singing. There are multiple places in the Bible that refers to all of heaven and Earth singing praises to God. Will is praising God, singing to Him, with the community of saints in heaven. This truth is really special to me because it’s something that we can take part in here on Earth. When I am singing in church or worshiping God with any type of song, I often picture myself singing alongside Will. I imagine him singing and it feels like something I can do “with him” here on Earth and also one day when we are together in heaven.
4. He is happy and free of pain. Revelation 21:4 says, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Seeing Will sick and in the hospital was devastating. He would sometimes cry when he was uncomfortable or something was hurting him. It broke my heart to see him upset and most of the time I could do nothing to help him. I couldn’t pick him up or rock him or nurse him, he was just sad and inconsolable at times. Not in heaven. He will never be sad again and I also take that to mean he is filled with joy always.
5. He is inspiring those of us still on Earth. This one is kind of complicated and I’m still not sure I fully understand it theologically, so bear with me. Hebrews 12:1-2 says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” The Hebrew word used here is martureo which refers to giving a testimony. I think it’s saying that those who have gone before us, those in the “hall of faith” listed out in Hebrews 11 as well as those we have known on Earth, are witnessing to us through their lives. I am a runner so this whole analogy in Hebrews 12 about running the race set before us really works for me. I ran high school track and cross country at a competitive school with a lot of fast girls. I picture it as if I went back and cheered for the girls running now, the ones in the middle of their high school careers. I would be witnessing to them that I finished strong and so can they, cheering them on to keep going and encouraging them to reach the finish line just as I did. I picture “the great cloud of witnesses” like this, just on an infinitely larger scale. Will’s life is a testimony to all of us here on Earth that by faith in Christ we can finish too. His life encourages mine to hope in eternity, where there is no sin, no sadness and no pain. His life inspires mine to make a difference while I am still here on Earth because what we do here has an eternal impact.
6. He is free. John 8:36 says, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” In Heaven we will do everything we want to do and all those things will lead to greater joy. We will worship God together with all of the the saints, completely free of all worry, pain and sickness. I often feel like I lost Will because he is not here with me, but when I think of all that he has gained, that is where I can find peace and comfort and hope. He is not missing out on anything here on Earth, instead he is fully enjoying the presence and perfect love of Christ in a way that I cannot even begin imagine. He is free indeed.
In just a few days a new decade begins. Ten years ago Taylor and I were in college, newly engaged and getting ready to being our new lives together. In the past decade we have gotten married, started jobs, quit jobs, moved to new houses, new cities, had four children, lost Will and started a non-profit. I want to tell you a story about our past decade. It's a bit long but it really puts a lot of what God is doing through the Will King Foundation into perspective. It’s a story about patience and God’s sovereignty. It’s a story that starts ten years ago and demonstrates just another way the Will’s life has affected ours in greater ways than we could have ever imagined.
Ten years ago Taylor and I were at a New Year's conference in Washington DC celebrating the beginning of 2010 with hundreds of other college students. We became friends our freshman year and had met through a college ministry called Campus Outreach. I think there can sometimes be some misconceptions about campus ministries and while Campus Outreach wasn’t perfect, being involved with a group of young Christians had an overall positive impact on both Taylor and I. We learned how to study the Bible and share our faith. We also learned that there were a lot of people all over the world who had never heard the Gospel. I knew about missionaries as a child, I heard of people going on mission trips through our church or delivering Christmas shoeboxes through Samaritan’s Purse, but I never connected that people were going to places all over the world to share the Gospel with people who may have never heard the name of Jesus or read the Bible. Even non-Christians who I grew up with knew who Jesus was and had access to a Bible, it seemed like such common knowledge. It was hard to imagine a world where people would look at you blankly with any mention of Jesus or the Gospel and I was just very naive to what missions was really all about.
Taylor and I started dating in October 2009 and after almost a year were got engaged during our senior year of college. During that time we learned more about these “unreached people groups,” communities of people who had never heard the Gospel. We learned that there was a place in the world called the 10/40 window, which spans much of Northern Africa, the Middle East and Asia and is home to some of the largest unreached people groups in the world. We started a prayer group and met together with a group of friends each week to pray for one of the unreached groups in the 10/40 window. We had maps and copies of Operation World spread across the table as we shared facts about the least evangelized parts of the world. It’s okay if it sounds obsessive and overdone, if you know me then you know that obsessive and overdone are my normal. Just to prove my point, when we moved this summer I found the “Pray for Africa” scrapbook I made for Taylor (yes, I’m serious). I had forgot I made this and I can’t remember when I even gave it to him, but it’s a spiral bound notebook with black pages filled with sticker letters, gold gel pen and full Princess Poppy style enthusiasm. On each page I put the name of an African country in sticker letters and then wrote specific ways to pray for the people in that country. I am not joking even a little bit. I am shocked that he didn’t run far far away after receiving this. And the hours I must have spent. If this doesn’t convince you just believe me when I say we were committed (consumed?) with taking the Gospel to those who have never heard it before. Jesus tells us to go and make disciples of all nations and we, for whatever reason, felt like we should be the ones to do just that.
After we got engaged there was a lot of discussion about where we would live and what we would do after graduation. We felt a lot of pressure to go on staff with Campus Outreach in their new region of Washington DC. We even spent some time in DC meeting with the staff director, visiting the church we would attend and seriously considering the possibility of continuing to spend our time in dorm rooms, college cafeterias and intramural fields. I wasn’t into it but pretended to be. I was excited about living in DC but not what we would be doing there. Staying on the college campus after graduation didn’t appeal to me. Besides, I loved children. I was student teaching in a first grade classroom and being around those children every day lit my heart on fire. We didn’t do many wise things as college students, but one very wise thing we did was reach out to our pastor. We had been attending a local church near Elon for a few years and thought we should go outside of the Campus Outreach bubble to get some advice from our pastor about this decision. We explained that we wanted to somehow have an impact on the nations and that we were trying to decide whether we should spend a few years on staff or not. I remember the look on his face as we explained our dilemma, our hopes, our love for children - confusion, patience and a little smirk as to say, “these two are so naive.” Looking back I realize how illogical and immature we must have sounded. After our rambling he looked at us in the eye and in his deep, wise voice he said, “if you want to impact the nations, you need to get jobs and get involved in your local church.” It seemed too simple of an answer but I think it’s what we were both feeling and didn’t have the words or courage to admit.
We got married one month after our college graduation and moved to Charlotte, NC. We did exactly what our pastor said and found an amazing local church in Rock Hill, SC. We made some of our very best, life-long friends there. We learned how to live together, pay bills and work hard. We grew up together. In 2013 we had our first son and when Joshua was 10 months old we moved back to my hometown of Jacksonville, FL. We became covenant members at a local church, got involved and continued to work and raise our family. There was no more talk of moving overseas but our desire never went away. During our first few years back in Jacksonville my perspective on missions began to change. I read and listened and learned. I started to realize that true change happens through community.
After Will passed away, we asked our family and friend to help us sponsor Avery, a little girl from Grenada who needed heart treatment that wasn’t available where she lived. The response was overwhelming and we were able to continue sponsoring children just like Avery through Patrons of the Hearts. As generosity continued to flow in, we started to realize that we really needed to decide what we would do with it. Who would we help? How could we make the most meaningful impact? Patrons of the Hearts serves international pediatric heart patients and we decided to support those children and families for a few reasons. One is because they don’t have access to the medical resources we do. When our babies got sick, we drove ten minutes to a children’s hospital with all the specialized care they needed. I am certain that if we lived in a developing country when our babies got sick neither of them would have survived. So, we made it our mission to support international children receiving heart treatment in Jacksonville. We get to sponsor children through Patrons of the Hearts, support them and their families while they are here with King Kits, our connection with The Care Team at our local church and through prayer teams. We will get to fund trips to developing countries where doctors will set up a clinic and be ale to identify children who need to travel to our city for life-saving heart treatment. The Will King Foundation has the opportunity to impact the nations much more than Taylor and I do on our own. While these children are here with their families we get to connect with them and support them during a very difficult time in their lives. We get to love them and care for them and even give them a children’s Bible, but I think what is most world changing is that these children will return home with knowledge of the Gospel. Whether they knew about Jesus or not before they came here, they will go home knowing that Jesus loves them and God can use them to reach their communities much more effectively than we ever could have. That’s not to say we will never travel overseas or participate in international missions, it’s just to say that God can use us to impact the world from anywhere, even our own hometown. He can take the biggest mess and turn it into an even bigger message and that’s exactly what He’s doing with Will’s life. He planted little seeds all over mine and Taylor’s hearts over the past ten years and after the most devastating and tragic event of our lives those seeds have begun to grow.
I didn’t write a lot this summer. We moved, travelled and got a puppy but if you can believe it those aren’t even the reasons why. For about a year after Will passed away it seemed that everything poured out of me. In a kind of twisted, desperate way I wanted to remember every detail of what happened during Will’s 96 days on Earth. I hated so many of those days and some of them I will always hold in a little handful of the worst days of my life but each one had Will in it and I want to remember all the moments, even the most devastating ones. I want to remember the emotions, the timeline, the schedule, the medical words, the people, the setbacks and the victories Mostly I want to remember Will. I know that one day it will be hard to me to close my eyes and see his little face, his half smirky smile and his fuzzy peach head. I know I might forgot what his hand felt like wrapped around my finger or how he sat up in his little bouncer seat watching everything going on down the hallway. It is painful to think that I might forget what it felt like to see both of my babies outside of my body for the first time. It’s hard to imagine now, when it’s still so vivid, but I might not remember what it was like to hold Will on his first day or his last. Even though a lot of Will’s life was tragic and heartbreaking, it was his life and I don’t want to forget any of it. I’m glad I wrote everything and I know one day I will read it again, feel it again. But for now, for this summer, it was a season of settling in.
I first started thinking about this theme of settling when we moved into our new home. After everything is unpacked there’s the organizing and the decorating and the filling in all the little gaps of where we need a new bookshelf or whose closet requires more hangers (always the little girls). When the furniture is in place and the boxes are recycled, that’s when the real settling begins. Things get moved around, picture frames lean against the walls and the drapes dance from room to room as we decide what window they will cover. We are getting familiar with the house, it’s corners and spaces and oddly shaped kitchen shelves. There is this period of familiarization where everyone learns how to be in the new space we now live in. The same type of settling happened with the new puppy. Her name is Winnie. She is friendly and sweet and happy and her teeth are sharper than ten billion thumb tacks. There’s a lot of settling when it comes to a new puppy. A lot. We have to learn her habits and preferences and try to understand why she seems more like a vacuum than an animal. We settled into a new schedule with her meals and walks and letting her outside at least 10,000 times every day to run around like a wild beast, eat rocks and dig in the dirt. It takes a period to adjust, to settle, and then it’s the new normal. The old house, the family that didn’t have a dog, it’s now part of the past and while we will never forget those times, we are used to the new now.
It was a summer of settling emotionally too. For me, I feel that settling into a life without Will here on Earth is just beginning in many ways. It’s odd learning how to be a grieving mother. I’ve had to learn what it means to enjoy Will’s siblings without feeling guilty. What it means to raise three children instead of four. I’ve had to learn what it actually means to grieve for a lifetime and while I’m sure I have a lot more to learn, I got a very clear vision of what it’s going to be like while out on a hot, humid summer run. I was running and a tiny rock got stuck in my sock, right in the back at the top of my heel. It wasn’t painful enough that I felt I needed to stop running to remove it (it takes a lot to get me to stop running before the run is over) but it was just big enough that I knew it was there. When it would turn a certain way or I was thinking about it, the rock became extremely painful at times. For some reason I equated that rock to grief and compared it to loosing a child. Running in the Florida heat in July can make you a bit delirious, but I think the metaphor works. The pain is always present. Sometimes I barely feel it, I carry on throughout my day and I’m happy. I think about Will every day and sometimes even get to talk about him, but the grief doesn’t cause me to constantly breakdown. Other times, just like when that rock that would stab into the back of my heel, it’s really painful. Although it’s always there, sometimes it effects me deeper, stabs harder and feels more unbearable. I’ve been settling into that reality. The sorrow is never going away. There will be days that the pain is unbearable, days where I barely feel it even though I know it’s still there, days that I want more than anything to remove it and throw it away and days that I just walk around with it, a discomfort that has become almost comfortable because I know it so well. I knew it but it’s finally setting in, this is my reality forever. I will always be a mother who has lost a child. I will always know that pain.
School started this week. Will would have been 20 months right now, so not close to school age but for some reason I found myself thinking about him and Caroline going to Kindergarten. I had never thought about it before, at least not that I can remember, even while I was pregnant. The thought popped into my mind on Monday morning. It was Will’s older brother’s first day of first grade. He ate breakfast and got dressed, he was excited and nervous and all the things a six year old little boy feels on the first day at a new school. I asked him to put his backpack on and staying with our tradition we took a first day of school picture by our front door. That’s when I realized that Caroline would be standing there alone. I made the thought leave and didn’t let it come back until our first grader was happy and safe in his new classroom. Later that day I shared the front door photo on Instagram and scrolled through, looking at all of the other first day of school smiles and backpacks and front doors. There is often this theme among first day of school pictures, the children are excited and parents have mixed emotions, often feeling sad to see their child growing up. I get it. I have put plenty of tear wall emojis next to captions about how fast my children are growing up. But as I thought about Caroline, as a Kindergartner standing in front of our door on her first day of school, I realized that the pain of watching her grow up is nothing in comparison to not getting to see Will grow up.
I love the stage we are in. I love newborn babies and learning to walk toddlers and I even love terrible two year olds. I know the next stage, the “big kid” stage, will be so much fun. I know it will involve lots of adventures and traveling and going to movies and not worrying about nap time or potty training or keeping track of pacis. But I like where we are. Honestly, a big part of me doesn’t want the next stage to come, I just want everyone to stay little and sweet and innocent. I want onesies and playing with baby dolls and snuggling and dress up. At the same time, I know that it’s such a gift. Growing up is not a guarantee, my child didn’t get to do it. The thought of Caroline standing by that front door alone paralyzes me and makes me cry all of the biggest, ugliest tears. Watching her grow up is hard and I want her to stay this sweet little baby forever. But watching her grow up without Will, that’s the part that really deserves a million tear wall emojis. This is what’s real and this is what I’m settling into. I’m settling into the hard, painful facts about what comes with losing a child. There is no finish line and no happy ending. It’s going to take a lot of endurance to keep on living joyfully with that tiny rock so constantly and painfully making it’s presence known. It’s going to be hard but I can do hard things. This is the race that was set before me, the one that I have to run with that tiny rock as my companion the entire way. I will run it with perseverance. I will run it with confidence. I will run it with joy. I will run it with gratitude. I will run it with purpose. That is where I’ve settled in, a place of joy and gratitude and purpose. A place where Will is never forgotten and where his life always brings happiness to others. I may not be taking his picture in front of our door on his first day of Kindergarten but there are a lot of other ways I can be Will’s Mommy here on Earth. It’s not the rock I would have asked for, wished for or ever imagined, but it’s there, settled in forever and I believe that if I choose to embrace it then it might even compel me to run my best race yet.
Maliya came to Jacksonville in August 2018. She was the third baby we sponsored for heart treatment through Patrons of the Hearts and her life has made a bigger impact on me and everyone around her than any of us could have expected.
Taylor and I got to meet Maliya’s parents, Tonya and Malon, shortly after she arrived in Jacksonville. We had communicated briefly over text before meeting them, but didn’t know the full details of Maliya’s story or condition until we got the chance to spend time with them. We sat at dinner with them in complete awe at their faithfulness, God’s goodness and Maliya’s strength when we heard what they had been through over the past months. Maliya’s heart condition was serious, her oxygen levels were so low for such a long period of time that it is an absolute miracle that she even made it to Jacksonville. All those numbers and stats, the range for normal vital signs and distress signals were all still so fresh in my mind. Will had only passed away five months before Maliya arrived and I could still invasion his monitor with all the numbers indicating how his body was functioning. When I heard Maliya’s numbers I was terrified and amazed all at the same time. What amazed me even more was her parents. They were so calm, confident and joyful - three words I am certain no one would have used to describe me when my babies were sick. Malon, Maliya’s dad, is a Pastor of several churches in Grenada. His faith and trust in Christ was astounding and so encouraging to me. As he spoke I kept thinking about the hymn “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less” and the lyrics that say “on Christ this solid rock I stand.” He confidently and boldly stood upon the solid rock of Jesus and it was apparent and inspiring. I felt an instant connection with Tonya, Maliya’s mom. She was so sweet, genuine and I quickly realized she was brilliant as well. Her love for Christ and love for her daughter poured out in every word she spoke. We went home from dinner so thankful to have met them, so impressed by their knowledge, their faith, their persistence.
Over the next few months, Maliya remained in the hospital, undergoing heart treatment, including an open heart surgery, experiencing the highs and lows that every high risk patient seems to go through. I got to spend more time with Tonya and the more I was around her the more I recognized her strength and perseverance. Through every high she praised Jesus and in every low she clung to Him, proclaiming His sovereignty and trusting in Him. We went out to dinner, on a trip to Walmart and she even spent Halloween with us. Every time we were together she smiled, she laughed, she genuinely asked about my children and cared about how we were doing all the while her daughter was in the ICU, sometimes stable and doing well and sometimes unstable or in distress. Regardless of her circumstances, Tonya always exuded joy that can only be found in Christ.
In December, Maliya went home. Although I had spent time with Tonya over the past five months, I had never met Maliya. I couldn’t go back. I couldn’t go back to the place where I had held Will for the last time. I couldn’t go back to the place where I had watched him breath his last breath. I didn’t have enough strength to enter into that space again. The day before they left for Grenada, I finally met Maliya for the first and only time. My brother and I went to the Ronald McDonald House to say goodbye and record Maliya’s story. Her dad walked out of their room and down the hallway with her. She was tiny but had a huge presence. She had sweet dark eyes and fabulous curly hair and was loved so very much by her parents. We said goodbye and stayed in touch as the Peters family settled into their new normal life at home for the first time since their daughter had been born.
On January 20, 2019, I got a text from Tonya. She was letting me know that Maliya was in the ICU and they were waiting to hear what was wrong. On the morning of January 21 I missed a call from Tonya and expected to hear that Maliya was doing better. When I reached her later that morning, I fell back onto our couch, unable to believe what I was hearing. She told me that Maliya wasn’t going to make it, her heart was too weak. I had been on Tonya’s side of the story for almost a year, sharing with people that my son was sick, telling friends that the doctor’s didn’t think he would make it through the night and eventually sharing that he had passed away. At that moment speaking to Tonya, I understood how everyone else must feel when they talk to me. Helpless. Wordless. Overwhelmed. I was unable to form a thought, let alone a sentence. Disbelief and anger shot through my body. “No,” I thought to myself while trying to offer something comforting to Tonya, “not Maliya. Not after everything she has been through.” I was heartbroken over Maliya’s death, knowing the pain that her parents were feeling and being deeply familiar with the grief journey they had just entered into. When Will passed away I kept having this feeling that he was somehow missing out. I was mad that he didn’t get to grow up. I was mad that he didn’t get to experience all the things that this world had to offer that we so often take for granted. I felt the same way about Maliya. Then I remember that while we might be missing their lives here on Earth and desperately wanting them to be here, Will and Maliya and all the children gone too soon, they aren’t missing out on anything. What they have gained far outweighs anything this world has to offer.
“Give me Jesus, you can have all the world,just give me Jesus” - Jermey Camp
I sat at my desk on a cold sunny day at the end of January with my computer propped open. My girls were napping and my son was at school. Our home was quite and peaceful as I turned on the live stream of Maliya’s funeral service. I watched as the camera zoomed in to show her laying in her tiny casket wearing a beautiful white gown, looking perfect and whole. I listened to the stories of how Maliya’s short life had touched so many already and then tears streamed down my face as I listened to Maliya’s mom speak about her daughter. We didn’t have a funeral for Will. I still can’t bear to imagine what that would have been like and I'm not sure I would have survived it. Amidst all the sadness and pain and grief, Tonya stood there, in front of a crowd of people and spoke about her daughter and about Jesus with so much grace and confidence that I was left completely astounded and in awe. Watch the video below and you will be too.
I have copied the letter that I wrote and read for Maliya below. It’s hard to put words together that adequately express the impact that Maliya has had on my life. She is special and she will continue to bring glory to God until we are all reunited again. I am so thankful to know this family and so grateful for the life of sweet Maliya, she will forever hold a very special place in our hearts and lives.
You are a very special little girl. I remember getting a call from Dr. Ettedgui in the summer asking if we'd like to sponsor you to come to Jacksonville for heart treatment. Without hesitation I said yes. You arrived and I got word of how sick you were, we prayed. I was never brave enough to come to the hospital to meet you. My little boy, Will, passed away there a few months before you arrived and I couldn't bring myself to go back. I did get to meet your parents though. They love you so much. The first time we met we sat at dinner, listening to your story in awe of all God had already done in your short life. You, my dear, are a miracle. I felt an instant connection with your mom, she was so brave, so confident yet sweet and thoughtful. She handed me a thank you card, a touching hand written note expressing her gratitude to us for sponsoring you through Patrons of the Hearts. I felt like I was the one who should be thanking her for showing me such genuine, courageous strength.
You went through your first surgery and you were doing so well. In October I was at Disney World with my children. I was strolling my youngest daughter, Caroline, while she was napping when I got a text from your mom. You had declined and the doctors were scared your heart was getting weaker. All the feelings I experienced when my son was sick came flooding back and I ached for your mom and dad. I prayed for you and asked God to heal you. He did. You got better and got to stay with us longer to undergo your second procedure. Your daddy had to go home, he needed to work and get your house ready for your return. You mom stayed here. She spent every single day with you, taking care of you and learning all she could. She is so smart. I loved getting to spend some time with her. We went to dinner and we even got to go shopping for you. She was so excited to pick out all the things you needed as you got ready to go home. While you were here everyone fell in love with you. All your nurses and therapists still talk about you with such fondness. You truly made an impact on us.
After four long months, you were discharged from the hospital and came back to the Ronald McDonald House with your mom and dad. Finally, I got to meet you. I was sitting in the hallway, talking to your mom when you dad walked out with you. You were so tiny, buried in his arms and at first I could barely see you. When I got a closer look I saw that you were the mighty little girl that I had heard about for all those weeks. I remember when we first met your parents your mom told me that you had never been home. You went straight from the hospital in Grenada to Wolfson Children's Hospital. Looking at you, I imagined the joy that your parents would feel walking through the door of your house with you for the first time the next day. Your mom was thrilled, beaming with excitement.
I don't know why some lives are short and others are long. I want my Will to be here with me every day and I know your parents want you back too. I don't know that we will ever fully understand why you, and Will, were only here on Earth for a short time but I am confident that you made a bigger impact in your short life than most of us will make with a long one. Your life has and will continue to glorify God, who created you. Your parents will never stop telling your story and you will continue to inspire people from all over the world. You have already impacted a community miles and miles away from your home. During our first dinner with your parents, your dad said that he wanted to write a book one day. I hope he does. Your life is precious and I look forward to seeing you again one day. Until then, know that we love your parents and they have a whole community who loves them too. They will be sad and miss you every single day they continue to live on this Earth. But thank God that we have hope in Christ. We rebuild our lives on that hope. You showed us how, Maliya. You showed us how to be resilient, tenacious and unwavering. I pray my daughters have your fighting spirit. 2 Timothy 1:7 says,"for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control." That's you, Maliya. Afraid of nothing but full of love.
All my love,
Courtney, Will's Mommy"
Our mission is to support international children receiving heart treatment in Jacksonville, FL.
My name is Courtney Hughes and I am Will's mommy. I am happy that you are here to read Will's story and make a difference with us!